aprāpya māḿ nivartante
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 9.3
Those who are not faithful in this devotional service cannot attain Me, O conqueror of enemies. Therefore they return to the path of birth and death in this material world.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
The faithless cannot accomplish this process of devotional service; that is the purport of this verse. Faith is created by association with devotees. Unfortunate people, even after hearing all the evidence of Vedic literature from great personalities, still have no faith in God. They are hesitant and cannot stay fixed in the devotional service of the Lord. Thus faith is a most important factor for progress in Krishna consciousness. In the Caitanya-caritamrita it is said that faith is the complete conviction that simply by serving the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna, one can achieve all perfection. That is called real faith. As stated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.31.14),
yatha taror mula-nisecanena
pranopaharac ca yathendriyanam
tathaiva sarvarhanam acyutejya
“By giving water to the root of a tree one satisfies its branches, twigs and leaves, and by supplying food to the stomach one satisfies all the senses of the body. Similarly, by engaging in the transcendental service of the Supreme Lord one automatically satisfies all the demigods and all other living entities.” Therefore, after reading Bhagavad-gita one should promptly come to the conclusion of Bhagavad-gita: one should give up all other engagements and adopt the service of the Supreme Lord, Krishna, the Personality of Godhead. If one is convinced of this philosophy of life, that is faith.
Now, the development of that faith is the process of Krishna consciousness. There are three divisions of Krishna conscious men. In the third class are those who have no faith. Even if they are officially engaged in devotional service, they cannot achieve the highest perfectional stage. Most probably they will slip, after some time. They may become engaged, but because they haven’t complete conviction and faith, it is very difficult for them to continue in Krishna consciousness. We have practical experience in discharging our missionary activity that some people come and apply themselves to Krishna consciousness with some hidden motive, and as soon as they are economically a little well situated they give up this process and take to their old ways again. It is only by faith that one can advance in Krishna consciousness. As far as the development of faith is concerned, one who is well versed in the literatures of devotional service and has attained the stage of firm faith is called a first-class person in Krishna consciousness. And in the second class are those who are not very advanced in understanding the devotional scriptures but who automatically have firm faith that krishna-bhakti, or service to Krishna, is the best course and so in good faith have taken it up. Thus they are superior to the third class, who have neither perfect knowledge of the scriptures nor good faith but by association and simplicity are trying to follow. The third-class person in Krishna consciousness may fall down, but when one is in the second class he does not fall down, and for the first-class person in Krishna consciousness there is no chance of falling down. One in the first class will surely make progress and achieve the result at the end. As far as the third-class person in Krishna consciousness is concerned, although he has faith in the conviction that devotional service to Krishna is very good, he has not yet gained adequate knowledge of Krishna through the scriptures like Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita. Sometimes these third-class persons in Krishna consciousness have some tendency toward karma-yoga and jnana-yoga, and sometimes they are disturbed, but as soon as the infection of karma-yoga or jnana-yoga is vanquished, they become second-class or first-class persons in Krishna consciousness. Faith in Krishna is also divided into three stages and described in Srimad-Bhagavatam. First-class attachment, second-class attachment and third-class attachment are also explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam in the Eleventh Canto. Those who have no faith even after hearing about Krishna and the excellence of devotional service, who think that it is simply eulogy, find the path very difficult, even if they are supposedly engaged in devotional service. For them there is very little hope of gaining perfection. Thus faith is very important in the discharge of devotional service.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
“Well if this dharma is so easy to execute, who will remain in this world?” This verse answers.
Using genitive (possessive case) instead of accusative case (object) in dharmasya asya is poetic license. Those who do not have faith in this process of dharma, who think that the supreme position given to bhakti in the scriptures is just exaggeration, and who do not accept it with faith, do not attain me, even though they make efforts to attain me by other methods. They remain completely (nivartate) on the path of transmigration (samsara vartmani), invariably including death.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
9.3 Some men who even after attaining the state fit for the practice of this Dharma which is called Upasana (worship) — which is immensely dear inasmuch as it has for its goal Myself who am incomparably dear, and which is the means for the attainment of Myself forming the supreme good that does not perish — may still ‘lack faith’ in it. Such persons who lack faith which requires eagerness for realization, will not attain Me but remain in the mortal pathway of Samsara. O how strange it is — this hindrance caused by evil Karma! Such is the meaning. [It means, that to declare that one has faith in a spiritual doctrine and yet to take no steps to put it into practice, is pure hypocrisy.] Listen then to the inconceivable glory of Myself, who am the goal tobe attained:
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
So the question may arise that if the implementation of this supreme wisdom is so easy to practice then why isn’t everyone performing it and freeing themselves from transmigration in samsara or the perpetual cycle of birth and death. Lord Krishna is answering this question in this verse. Persons who are lacking in faith in Lord Krishna do not accept this eternal wisdom in spite of the fact that there is no knowledge superior to this wisdom in any medium from any source. So it is assured that such persons are trapped in samsara. Others may have attempted to increase their faith by other methods and means; but without bhakti or pure loving devotion for Lord Krishna such persons are automatically recycled back into another body again and again in the worlds of mortals and subject to pursuit by death who captures all beings.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
Sri Madhvacharya did not comment on this sloka.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
The point may be brought up that if this divine and sacred spiritual knowledge is so excellent and so easy to perform and is the best means of attaining the highest good; then why isn’t everyone following this path and enthusiastically liberating themselves from the entrapment of samsara the perpetual cycle of birth and death? Lord Krishna uses the word asraddadhanah meaning absence of faith. People lacking in faith due to having a mentality tainted by incessant performance of innumerable sinful activities are averted to this divine spiritual knowledge magnanimously bequeathed by Lord Krishna. Unable to receive such divine wisdom and the inability to comprehend bhakti or pure loving devotion such persons feel inferior subconsciously and so although they strive for liberation by diverse concocted and speculative methods they have no success because of lack of faith and aversion to Lord Krishna. Lacking in devotion and full of selfish motives and insatiable desires such persons revolve from one birth to another again and again and again perpetually.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
9.3 Parantapa, O destroyer of foes; those purusah, persons, again; who are asraddadhanah, regardless of, devoid of faith in; asya dharmasya, this Dharma, this knowledge of the Self-those who are faithless as regards its true nature as well as its result, who are sinful, who have taken recourse to the ‘upanisad’ (mystical teaching) of demoniacal people, consisting in consideration the body alone as the Self, and who delight in life (sense enjoyments); nivartante, certainly go round and round;-where?-mrtyu-samsara-vartmani, along the path (vartma) of transmigration (samsara) fraught with death (mrtyu), the path leading to hell, birth as low creatures, etc., i.e., they go round and round along that very path; aprapya, without reaching; mam, Me, the supreme God. Certainly there is no question of their attaining Me. Hence, the implication is that (they go round and round) without even acquiring a little devotion, which is one of the disciplines [Ast. omits the word sadhana, disciplines.-Tr.] constituting the path for reaching Me. Having drawn Arjuna’s attention through the (above) eulogy, the Lord says:
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
9.3 Asraddadhanah etc. They remain eternally : Again and again they are born and they die.
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
aprapya mam nivartante
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
aśraddadhānāḥ — those who are faithless; puruṣāḥ — such persons; dharmasya — toward the process of religion; asya — this; param-tapa — O killer of the enemies; aprāpya — without obtaining; mām — Me; nivartante — come back; mṛtyu — of death; saḿsāra — in material existence; vartmani — on the path.